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has preserved the memory of many in succeeding
ages. It is natural then to inquire at what period
the true miracles ceased, and the fictitious com-
menced. Some mark is called for, to distinguish so
important an era, and the imprudence of which some
Christian writers have been guilty in their attempts
to fix it, has afforded a kind of triumph to those who
were willing to expose eA^ry weak quarter in the
defence of Christianity. Dr. Middleton, in his book,
entitled — A free Inquiry into the miraculous powers
which have been supposed to subsist in the Christ-
ian Church, maintained this position, that after the

A OL. I. H


days of the Apostles, the Church did not possess any
standing power of working miracles. Those Avho
were zealous for the honour of the early fathers, at-
tacked, with much bitterness, a position which di-
rectly impugned their authority. Some of them very
unadvisedly said, that if all the miracles, after the
days of the Apostles, which were attested unanimous-
ly by the primitive fathers, are no better than enthu-
siasm and imposture, then we are deprived of our
evidence for the truth of the Gospel miracles. Others
undertook to defend the reality of the miracles in
the first four centuries ; and they weakened their
defence by extending their frontier. The controversy
was keenly agitated about the middle of the last
century ; and the attention of the world was lately
drawn to it, by the fascinating language of Mr.
Gibbon, who, mixing truth and falsehood together,
and colouring both with his masterly pencil, has
contrived to reflect from the claims of the primitive
Church, a degree of suspicion upon the Gospel mi-

No person who believes the Gospel will think it
incredible, that miracles were performed during the
whole of the first century, because the Apostle John
lived about the end of it, and many of those to whom
the Apostles had communicated spiritual gifts, pro-
bably survived it. All the Christian writers of the
second and third centuries affirm, that miraculous
gifts did, in certain measure, continue in the Christ-
ian Church, and were, at times, exerted in the
cure of diseases, and the expulsion of demons. But
those who have examined their writings with critical
accuracy, have shown that there is much looseness
and exaggeration in the language which Mr. Gibbon


has employed with regard to these gifts. To satisfy
you of this, I shall place a passage from that histo-
rian, over against passages from Irenaeus, Origen,
and Eusebius. Mr. Gibbon says, the Christian
Church, from the times of the Apostles and their
first disciples, has claimed an uninterrupted succes-
sion of miraculous powers. Amongst these he men-
tions the power of raising the dead. In the days of
Irenaeus, he affirms, about the end of the second cen-
tury, the resurrection of the dead was far from being
esteemed an uncommon event ; the miracle was fre-
quently performed on necessary occasions, by great
fasting and the joint supplications of the church of
the place, and the persons thus restored to their
prayers, lived afterwards among them many years.*
Now hear Irenaeus himself. The true disciples of
Jesus, by a power derived from him, confer blessings
upon other men, as each has been enabled. Some
expel demons so eJ0fectually, that they who have been
delivered from evil spirits, believe and become mem-
bers of the church ; others have knowledge of futu-
rity, see visions, and utter prophecies ; others cure
diseases by the imposition of hands ; and, as we have
said, the dead too have been raised, and remained
some years with us. f Observe he changes the
tense in the last clause ; it is Jj/s^^jjcav, rrapixuvav. He
does not speak of the power of raising the dead as
present, but as having been exerted in some time
past, so that the persons who were the objects of it
reached to his own days. Mr. Gibbon himself has
shown that the Bishop of Autioch did not know, in

* Gibbon's Rom. Hist. ch. 15.
t Iren. lib. ii. cap. 32.


the second century, that the power of raising the
dead existed in the Christian church; and no Christian
writer, in the second Or third century, mentions this
miracle as performed in his time. You may judge
from this specimen of the accuracy of Mr. Gibbon.
Origen says, in the third century, signs of the Holy
Spirit were shown where Jesus began to teach, more
numerous after his ascension ; and, in succeeding
times, less numerous. But even at this day, there
are traces of it in a few men who have had their
souls cleansed. * Eusebius, in the beginning of the
fourth century, says, Our Lord himself, even at this
day, is wont to manifest some small portions of his
power in those whom he judges proper for it. f If
you give credit to these respectable testimonies, and
they are entitled to I'espect both from the manner in
which they are given, and from the characters of the
authors, you will believe that the profusion of mira-
culous gifts which was poured forth in the days of
the Apostles was gradually withdrawn in the suc-
ceeding ages, and that the fathers were sensible of
this gradual cessation, but boasted that some gifts
did continue, and were occasionally exerted during
the first three centuries. This gradual cessation is
agreeable to the analogy of the divine procedure in
other matters. It left an occasional supjiort to the
faith of Christians, so long as they were exposed to
persecution under the heathen emperors ; and it
serves to account for what Mr. Gibbon calls the in-
sensibility of the Christians with regard to the ces-
sation of miraculous powers. If these powers were

* Orig. contra Cels. lib. vii. p. 337.
t Eus, Dem. Ev. lib. iii. p. 109.


withdrawn, one by one, and the display of them be-
came gradually less frequent, the insensibility of
Christians with regard to the cessation of miracles is
not wonderful ; and the writers whom I have quoted,
have spoken of the subject in that manner which was
most natural.

Although it seems probable that miraculous powers
did, in certain measure, continue in the Christian
church during the first three centuries, yet it can-
not be said that the testimony borne to all the mira-
cles of that period, is unsuspicious. There probably
was much credulity and inattention in the relaters,
and their reports are destitute of many of those cir-
cumstances which are found in the testimony of the
Apostles. But, it is always to be remembered, that
the two are independent of one another. We do not
receive the miracles of the Gospel upon the testimony
of the fathers ; and, although all the miracles said to
be wrought after the days of the Apostles be reject-
ed, the evidence of the works which Jesus and his
Apostles did, would rest exactly upon that footing
on which we placed it.

It was to be expected, that miraculous gifts which
had perceptibly decreased till the days of Constantine,
would cease entirely when the protection afforded by
the civil government to the Christians rendered them
less necessary. Yet we find ecclesiastical history,
after Christianity became the religion of the state,
abounding with a diversity of the greatest miracles.
No wise champion of Christianity will attempt to de-
fend the reality of these wonders ; at the same time,
the extravagance of the later fictions will not dis-
credit, with any wise inquirer, the miracles of former
times. It is obvious to observe, that the Christian


world was prepared by having been witnesses of real
miracles, for receiving without suspicion such as were
fictitious, that the effect, which true miracles had
produced, might induce vain or deceitful men to em-
ploy this engine in accomplishing their own purposes,
and that after Christianity was the established reli-
gion, the use of this engine became as easy to the
Christians, as it was to the heathen pries^^s of old.
The innumerable forgeries of this sort, says Dr.
Middleton, strengthen the credibility of the Jewish
and Christian miracles. For how could we account
for a practice so universal, of forging miracles for
the support of false religions, if on some occasions
they had not actually been wrought for the confir-
mation of a true one ? Or how is it possible that
so many spurious copies should pass upon the world,
without some genuine original from whence they
were drawn, whose known existence and tried suc-
cess might give an appearance of probability to the
counterfeit ? We may add, that if these counterfeits
were at any time detected, the strong prejudice which
would arise from the detection against that religion,
in support of which they were adduced, could be
counterbalanced only by the unquestionable evidence
of the miracles of former times.

It appears then, that the duration of miracles in
the Christian church is a question of curiosity in no
degree essential to the evidence of our religion. If
no miracles were really performed after the days of
the apostles, then every Christian receives all that
ever were wrought upon unquestionable testimony.
If there were some real miracles in aftertimes, they
must stand upon their own evidence. We may re-
ceive them, or reject them, as they appear to us well


or ill vouched ; and we can draw no inference, from
the multiplicity of imitations or forgeries, unfavour-
able to the truth and divinity of the original.

Boiinet, in his philosophical and critical inquiries concerning
Christianity, has given, besides much other" valuable matter,
the most satisfying statement that I have met with of the ar-
gument from miracles. Bonnet's work was written in French,
An extract of the part of it most interesting to a student in
divinity, was translated by a clergyman of this church, and
published some years ago.

Bishop Sherlock, in his first volume of sermons, which is chiefly
occupied in stating the superiority of revealed to natural reli-
gion, has two discourses, the ninth and tenth, upon miracles
considered as the proof of revelation. He treats the subject in
his usual luminous manner, and suggests many just and useful

Newcome, in his observations on the conduct of our Saviour, has
written largely and delightfully of his miracles.

Jortin also, in some of his essays or discourses, and in his re-
marks on ecclesiastical history, has very ably illustrated the
fitness with which our Lord's miracles were adapted both to
prove the truth of his religion, and to impress upon his fol-
lowers the characteristical doctrines of the gospel. This view
of the subject is also prosecuted by Ogden in his sermons.

Campbell's Dissertation on Miracles.

Douglas's Criterion.

Butler's Analogy.

Macknight's Truth of the Gospel History.

Paley's Evidences.

Farmer on Miracles.

Cudworth, translated by Mosheim.

Leland's View of Deistical Writers.

Randolph's View of our Lord's Ministry.



Boyle's Lectures.


Sir David Dalrymple.




Those lectures upon Scripture are properly called
critical, which are intended to elucidate the meaning
of a difficult passage, and to bring out from the words
of an author the sense which is not obvious to an
ordinary reader. The sources of this elucidation are,
such emendations upon the reading or the punctua-
tion as may warrantably be made, an analysis of the
particular words, a close attention to the manner of
the author, to the scoj)e of his reasoning, and to the
circumstances of those for whom he writes ; and,
lastly, a comparison of the passage, which is the sub-
ject of the criticism, with other passages in which
the same matters are treated. There is great room
for critical lectures of this kind, and my theological
course abounds with specimens of them. Much has
been done in this way since the beginning of the last
century, by the application of sound criticism to the
Holy Scriptures ; and one great advantage to be de-
rived from an intimate acquaintance with the learn-
ed languages, and from the habit of analysing the
authors who wrote in them, is, that yovi are thereby
prepared for receiving that rational exposition of the
word of God, which is the true foundation of theo-
logical knowledge.


There is another kind of critical lecture, which
professes by a general comprehensive view of a pas-
sage of scripture, to illustrate some important points
in the evidence or genius of our religion. This kind
of lecture is applicable to those passages where there
is not any obscurity in the expression, any recondite
meaning, or any controverted doctrine, but where
there is a number of circumstances scattered through-
out, the force of which may be missed by a careless
or ignorant reader, but which by being arranged and
placed clearly in view, may be made to bear upon
one point, so as to bring conviction to the under-
standing, at the same time that they minister to the
improvement of the heart. The inimitable manner
of Scripture, so natural and artless, yet so pregnant
with circumstances the most delicate and the most
instructive, affords numberless subjects of this kind
of lecture ; and I do not know any method so well
calculated to give a person of taste and sensibility a
deep impression of the excellency and the divinity of
the Scriptures. One is tempted by the peculiar fit-
ness of the passages which occur to him, to adopt
this mode of lecturing occasionally in speaking to an
assembly of Christians, although it cannot be denied
that the ordinary method of lecturing by suggesting
remarks from j)articular verses, is more adapted to
that measure of understanding, of attention, and of
memory, which is found in the generality of hearers.

But such a mode may here be followed with ad-
vantage ; and I am led to give you now a specimen
of this criticism upon the sense, rather than upon the
words of an evangelist, because the eleventh chapter
of John's Gospel may be stated in such a light as to
illustrate much of what has been said with regard


both to the internal evidence of Christianity, and to
that branch of the external evidence which arises
from miracles.

The eleventh chapter of John is the history of the
resurrection of Lazarus, the greatest miracle which
Jesus performed. Upon such a general view of the
chapter as a critical lecture of this kind is meant to
give, we are led to attend to that exhibition of cha-
racter which the chapter contains — to the nature and
circumstances of the miracle — and to the effects which
the miracle produced.

I. The exhibition of character which this chapter
contains is various, and our attention is directed to
several very pleasing objects.

It is natural to speak first of the exhibition given
of the character of the historian. The other evange-
lists have not mentioned this miracle, perhaps out of
delicacy to Lazarus, who was alive when they wrote.
They did not choose to expose the friend of their
master to the fury of the Jews, by holding him forth
in writings that were to go through the world, as a
monument of his power. But John, who lived to see
the destruction of Jerusalem, probably survived La-
zarus ; and there was every reason why this evan-
gelist, who has preserved other miracles and dis-
courses which the former historians had omitted,
should record this event. It is a subject suited to
the pen of John : the beloved disciple seems to delight
in spreading it out ; for he has coloured his narration
with many beautiful circumstances, which unfold the
characters of the other persons, and discover his in-
timate acquaintance with his master's heart. It is
a striking instance of that strict propriety which per-


vades all the books of the New Testament, and which
marks them to every discerning eye to be authentic
writings, that the tenderest scenes in our Lord's life,
those in which the warmth of his private affections
is conspicuous, are recorded by this evangelist. From
the others we learn his public life, the grace, the con-
descension, the benevolence which appeared in all
his intercourse with those that had access to him.
It was reserved to " the disciple whom Jesus loved"
to present to succeeding ages this divine person in
his family, and amongst his friends. In his Gospel,
we see Jesus washing the feet of his disciples at the
last supper that he ate with them. It is John, the
disciple that leaned on the bosom of Jesus while he
sat at meat, who relates the long discourse in which,
with the most delicate sensibility for their condition,
he soothes the troubled heart of his disciples, spares
their feelings, while he tells them the truth, and
gives them his parting blessing. It is John, whom
Jesus judged worthy of the charge, who records the
filial piety with which, in the hour of his agony, he
provided for the comfort of his mother ; and it is
John, whose soul was congenial to that of his Mas-
ter, tender, affectionate, and feeling like his, who
dwells upon all the particulars of the resurrection
of Lazarus, brings forward to our view the sympa-
thy and attention with which Jesus took part in the
sorrows of those whom he loved, and making us in-
timately acquainted with them and with him, pre-
sents a picture at once delightful and instructive.

The next object in this exhibition of character is
the friendship which Jesus entertained for the fami-
ly of Lazarus. Bethany was a small village upon
the mount of Olives, within two miles of Jerusalem,



in the road from Galilee. Jesus, who resided in Ga-
lilee, and went only occasionally to Jerusalem, was
accustomed to lodge with Lazarus in his way to the
public festivals : and we are led to suppose, from an
incidental expression in Luke, * that during the fes-
tivals he went out to Bethany in the evening, and
returned to Jerusalem in the morning. To this lit-
tle family he retired from the fatigues of his busy
life, from the disputations of the Jewish doctors, and
the bitterness of his enemies ; and being, like his
brethren, compassed with infirmity, like his brethren
also he found refreshment to his soul in the inter-
course of those whom he loved. " Now Jesus," says
John, " loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus."
He loved the world ; he loved the chief of sinners.
That was a love of pity, the compassion which a
superior being feels for the wretched. This was the
love of kindness, the complacency which kindred
spirits take in the society of one another. Of the
brother he says to his apostles, with the same cor-
diality with which you would speak of one like your-
selves, " Our friend Lazarus." And although we
shall find the character of the two sisters widely
different, yet he discerned in both a mind worthy of
his friendship.

It appears strange to me, that any person who
ever read this chapter can blame the Gospel, as some
deistical writers in the last century were accustomed
to do, for not recommending private friendship.
Can there be a stronger recommendation than this
picture of the Author of the Gospul, drawn by the
hand of his beloved disciple ? When you follow Je-

* Luke xxi. 37, oS.


sus to Jerusalem, you may learn from his public life,
fortitude, diligence, wisdom. When you retire with
him to Bethany, you may learn tenderness, confi-
dence, and fellow feeling, with those whom you
choose as your friends. The servants of Jesus may
not in every situation find persons so worthy of their
friendship as this family ; and there is neither duty
nor satisfaction in making an improper choice. Many
circumstances may appoint for individuals days of
solitude, and therefore the universal religion of Je-
sus has wisely refrained from delivering a precept
which it may often be impossible to obey. But they
who are able to follow the example of their master,
by having a heart formed for friendship, and by
meeting with those who are worthy of it, have found
the medicine of life. Their happiness is independ-
ent of noise, and dissipation, and show ; amidst the
tumult of the world, their spirits enter into rest ;
and in the quiet, pleasing, rational intercourse of
Bethany, they forget the strife of Jerusalem.

The next object in this'exhibition is the character
of the two sisters, painted in that most perfect and
natural manner, which the Scriptures almost always
adopt, by actions, not by words. As soon as Laza-
rus is sick, the two sisters send a message to Jesus,
with entire confidence in his power to heal, and his
willingness to come. He is now beyond Jordan ; the
countries of Samaria and Galilee lie between Beth-
any and his present abode. But the sisters of La-
zarus knew too well his affection for their brother,
and his readiness to do good, to think that dis-
tance would prevent his coming. They say no more
than, " He whom thou lovest is sick," and they
leave Jesus to interpret their wisli. ^^^len Jesus


arrives at Bethany, after the death of Lazarus, the
different characters of the two sisters are supported
Avith the most delicate discrimination, even under
that pressure of grief which, in the hand of a coarse
painter, would have obliterated every distinguishing
feature. Martha, who had been " cumbered with
much serving," when she had to entertain our Lord,
rises with the same officious zeal from the ground,
where she was sitting dishevelled and in sackcloth,
amongst the friends who had come to comfort her.
She rises the moment she hears by some chance mes-
senger that Jesus is at hand, and runs to meet him.
Mary, who had sat at the feet of Jesus, so much en-
gaged with his discourse as not to think of providing
for his entertainment, is incapable of so brisk an
exertion, or thinks it more respectful to Jesus to
wait his coming. This difference in the conduct of
the two sisters is in the style of nature, according to
which the particular temper, and feelings of particu-
lar persons, give a very great variety to the language
of passion upon occasions equally interesting to all
of them. A man may know, he ought to know,
every corner in his own heart, how far any part of
his conduct proceeds from the defect of good, or the
prevalence of wrong principles. But the most inti-
mate acquaintance does not give him access to know
all the notions of delicacy and propriety which may
restrain, or urge on others at particular seasons, and
may give to their conduct, in the eye of careless ob-
servers, a very different appearance from that which
they would wish ; and it argues both an uncandid
spirit, and very little knowledge of the world, to say
or to think this man does not feel as he ought, be-
cause he does not express his feelings as I would


express mine. Martha ran and met Jesus : Mary-
sat still in the house. When Martha coincs to Je-
sus, there is in her first words a mixture of reproach
for his delay, and of confidence in his kindness,
" Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not
died." A gleam of hope, indeed, shoots athwart the
sorrowful mind of Martha at the sight of Jesus.
But her wish was so great that she is afraid to men-
tion it. " I know, that even now, whatsoever thou
wilt ask of God, God will give it thee." She has
conceived a hope, in the state of her mind it was
a wild hope, that her brother whom she had lost
might be instantly restored. Jesus composes her
spirit, prepares her for this gift, by recalling her
thoughts from the general resurrection to himself,
and probably gives her some sign or some direction,
in consequence of which she goes to the house, and
without alarming the Jews who were assembled
there, says secretly to her sister, " The Master is
come, and calleth for thee." This message instantly
rouses Mary. Her spirit, bowed down with grief,
revives at his call, and without knowing, probably
without conceiving the purpose for which he called
her, she arose quickly and went to him. When
she arrives, there is more submission in her manner
than there had been in that of Martha. The marks
are stronger of a depressed and afflicted spirit. She
fell down at his feet, weeping. But, as if to remind
us that we should look beyond these outward expres-
sions, which, being very much a matter of constitution,
vary exceedingly in different persons, the evangelist
puts the same words into the mouth of both, " Lord,
if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died ;"

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